What does the Forest and the Axe Proverb Mean?

The Forest and the Ax meaning

You may have seen this quote floating around the internet, but if not, it's an interesting one to learn about. 


"The forest was shrinking, but the trees kept voting for the axe, for the axe was clever and convinced the trees that because his handle was made of wood he was one of them." 


That may sound a bit ominous, and it's definitely wordy. Upon initially hearing the first few words, one may worry that someone is about to read you an immensely tedious and lengthy poem that you didn't ask about. But we'll break it all down to be more easily understood and tell you a bit about where it came from. Also, if you are wanting to purchase a product with this saying on it, scroll down to the end of this article.


Where did this quote originate?

Sometimes it's easier to understand the meaning of a text if you learn about its origin for context. Unfortunately, the exact origin of this quote has been lost to time, but that doesn't mean we can't learn about it. 

 One of the most immediately noticeable aspects of this quote is the mention of voting and the allusion to deforestation, both of which indicate that it's a relatively recent quote. 


Some people have labeled it as a Turkish proverb, but the only real indication that we have of that is a different quote cited by George K. Danns in his 1982 book, Domination and Power in Guyana. That quote goes like this:


When the axe cam into the Forest, the trees said "The handle is one of us". 


While you can see that the two quotes are similar, they're definitely not the same. Furthermore, we really have no solid evidence that it's a Turkish proverb, such as ancient writings, or at least other references to it. 


The Forest/Axe quote is very similar to a series of fables referred to as "The Woodcutter and the Trees". They spread throughout both Greek and West Asian culture and are said to be part of Aesop's fables. For example, one is the tale of Ahquar, an Assyrian royal counselor whose adopted son, Nadan, betrayed him. Nadan asks for a second chance after betraying Ahquar, and Ahquar gives him a list of reasons he won't (which is typical of West-Asian culture), ending the list by saying: 

"Thou hast been to me like the tree that said to its woodcutters, "If something of me were not in your hands, ye had not fallen upon me." 


Of course, that means that because the ax's handle is made of wood that the trees provided to the woodcutters, they contributed to their own demise. 


Another instance of this sort of quote comes to us in the form of a Hebrew proverb. 


"The ax goes to the wood from whence it borrowed its helve." (For context, a "helve" is a handle.) 


In total, there are 302 of these fables involving trees and woodcutters that originate from Greece and West- Asia. 


In a collection of Mediaeval Latin fables by Ademar of Chabannes, a woodman went into the Forest and asked the trees for their hardest wood so he could make a handle, so they gave him some wild olive wood. He builds his ax and immediately begins chopping down trees. The trees comment that it served them right because they unknowingly gave their enemy the weapon he'd asked for. The author comments on the fable in Latin, saying: "Ut cogites ante ne hosti aliqua praestes", or "You should think twice before offering anything to your enemies." 


Probably one of the most famous adaptations of this proverb is a song by Rush titled "The Trees." The lyrics speak of trees bickering, protesting, and demanding to be treated equally, but ultimately being governed "By the hatched, ax, and saw". 


What does this proverb mean?

Ultimately, this proverb speaks of deception and a wolf-in-sheep's-clothing type that fools the Forest into believing it won't hurt them because it has similarities to them. 


There's an extra layer of misery for the trees because no matter who inflicts the blow that causes their suffering, it was their own fault that it happened. And, often, when we find that we're the cause of our own suffering, that just makes the situation feel even worse. 


What are the political references of this proverb?

It's pretty easy to pick up on the overt political undertones of this proverb, but precisely what are the political references being made here? 

Have you ever complained about a politician, only to have a friend snidely remind you that you voted for that very politician? 


It doesn't matter if we had good intentions; the fact is that when a politician gets into office, it's our fault. And everything they do once they've taken office is a direct result of our choices and actions. 


Furthermore, the Red/Blue divide in the country that has reared its ugly head in recent years is the creation of the politicians we voted in, which means that the fact that we're more divided as a country than ever is our fault, as well. 


That's a hard pill for many people to swallow, but it's the reality of a Democratic Republic. So, proverbs like this are intended to make you carefully consider the people you vote into office. In today's modern age should also make you think twice about buying into narratives that the politicians are promoting that serve no other purpose but to polarize and divide us from our family and friends because that ax isn't as much like you as it says it is.  


Where can I buy Forest/Axe Proverb Products?

Of course, now that you've read the proverb and learned more about its origin, meaning, and political references, you may want to take to the internet to find products that depict the proverb. 


Here are a few Forest/Axe proverb products to get you started:


Here is an attractive and functional 15 oz coffee mug with the proverb boldly displayed along with an ax at the bottom. It's definitely a nice statement piece that should get people talking once they read it. You can purchase it from us by clicking here:  https://policebrand.net/products/the-forest-was-shrinking-coffee-mug-still-voted-for-the-ax-mug?_pos=2&_sid=68d8049b9&_ss=r



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